Trump and Christians
52 Movies: Week 50 - La Sapienza

Understated But Hilarious

That was how Paul described the BBC series Detectorists, back in June in a comment on a post here about another series, River. Apparently I put it on my Netflix watch list at the time. A few nights ago my wife and I were looking for something less than an hour long to watch, and decided to try it. The episodes are half an hour long, and after one I sort of shrugged and said, "Well, that's not bad." But by the end of the third episode I loved it. 

Paul's description is correct. This is a delightful show. I guess it's basically a situation comedy, but it's certainly superior to most of that genre. The story revolves around two men, Lance and Andy, who in the current cruel American vocabulary would have to be called losers. They're middle-aged, they have dull and low-paying jobs, and they spend their spare time pacing around the countryside with metal detectors ("This is a metal detector. We are metal detectorists."). They hope to find a Saxon hoard but mostly dig up "ring pulls" (pop tops to Americans), lost Matchbox cars, bits of wire, and the like.  Lance pines for his ex-wife, who callously takes advantage of him in various ways. Andy lives with a schoolteacher in one of those aimless "relationships" so typical of modern life.

That doesn't sound like much, and it isn't, but the writer-director, Mackenzie Crook, who also plays Andy, makes a great deal of it. "Understated" is almost an understatement; you almost forget you're watching a comedy, but then suddenly find yourself laughing out loud. I tend not to like contemporary comedy, because so much of it is excessively crude, mean, and in the end for me just not very funny. Detectorists is at the other end of that spectrum. The humor is dry, subtle, and sharp. There's some sexual humor, but it's not the staple. And it's basically warm and generous. It would be easy to portray Lance and Andy, not to mention the other half-dozen or so members of the Danebury Metal Detecting Club, with cold derision, but instead they're handled in such a way that you have a good deal of affection for them even as you're laughing at them. And it isn't all humor: at bottom they're taken seriously.

Here's the trailer, which gives you a pretty good sense of what the show is like. Andy is the long-haired one.


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Our library system has seasons 1 and 2. Is the guy on the right Toby Jones?


That sounds very good. :)

My guess is that anyone who finds the trailer appealing will like the show.

The trailer is very appealing. My kind of humour.

We watched the first one and enjoyed it very much. They got me with the Howard Carter quote.


Glad you liked it. What was the quote, and who is Howard Carter?

Howard Carter was the archaeologist who discovered King Tut's tomb. When he was first looking through a hole into the King's burial chamber, Lord Carnarvon, who financed the expedition, asked if he saw anything, and Carter said, "Yes, wonderful things."


Ah. I think I remember thinking that was a slightly odd thing to say.

Off-topic, but if you're looking for a fun Christmas movie and aren't familiar with it give The Bishop's Wife a go. I had heard of this movie but had no idea it was A) a comedy and B) Christmas-related. I watched it last night and found it very enjoyable.

The Cart Grant one? I love that one.


I sort of think I've seen that but am not certain. Apropos the conversation we were having on the Trump and Christians thread. :-/

Yes, that's the one -- Cary Grant, David Niven and Loretta Young. The 90's remake was called The Preacher's Wife. (haven't seen it -- probably won't.)

I remember now--David Niven is an angel who visits the bishop and helps him with various problems. Cary Grant as a bishop and David Niven as an angel sound pretty preposterous, and I recall being a little surprised that it was indeed enjoyable.

Well, Grant's the angel and Niven's the bishop. And the what the bishop thinks the angel is helping him with is different than the reality. But yes, that's it.

My expectations were rather low too, but I was surprised by how smart and well written it was.

And wonderful Monty Woolly.


Funny, but the night before I had watched The Night of the Hunter, and the same actor that played Uncle Birdie in that film is the cab driver in The Bishop's Wife -- James Gleason.

And yes, Monty Woolly is great.

Do you see the connections between NotH and True Grit?


No, but then I haven't seen TG since it first came out in the theatre.

Well, there's this.. I remember not being very happy with it. ;-) There was more I wanted to say, but I was trying to avoid spoilers.


Thanks -- I should probably try to watch TG again while NotH is still fresh in my mind, but I'm unlikely to get to it anytime soon.

Watched a good Ealing comedy last night -- The Titfield Thunderbolt. About a small town trying to save their branch railway, which is to be converted into a bus line. Very enjoyable!

Sounds very engaging. I've never heard of that one.

I have to admit that in the past I've not found the Ealing comedies as great as I wanted them to be. Not to say that I didn't enjoy them.

I think that the best of them are very good, but even the lesser ones have an innocent charm about them (not without a little wink of the eye, however!) that makes them lots of fun.

Watched another one last night -- A Run for Your Money. Two Welsh coal mining brothers win 200 pounds and a trip to London to collect it. Upon arrival they miss their contact at the train station, and are instead targeted by a pretty female con artist. The brothers then get separated and the movie follows their humorous attempts to find each other. It's all quite silly, but very funny at times. According to wikipedia it was very popular in England when it came out, even getting a BAFTA nomination for Best Picture in 1950.

I don't mean to sound negative, because I do like the ones I've seen. Kind Hearts and Coronets, for instance. Not even sure what I was expecting that wasn't there.

I think that before I watched them I was expecting the comedy to be broader and more uproarious or farcical. They're wittier and more subtle, and thus "quieter" than I thought they'd be, if that makes sense.

It's all quite silly, but very funny at times.

This reminded me that I'll have to put on the goofy little paper hat (which comes inside the cracker tube next to my plate) at Christmas dinner again, which makes everyone at the table look just plain silly. Such a curious British custom.

Indeed! The first time I ever saw that was in an episode of Are You Being Served?, and I thought it was just something those silly people in the show did.

I think Kind Hearts and The Man in the White Suit seemed to rely a bit too heavily on the central gimmick. I may like these lesser known ones that you mention, Rob, better.

Apropos Detectorists:

Well, we just watched the last four episodes of Detectorists. Hadn't really intended to--just were going to watch two half-hour episodes, but wanted to see what was going to happen. Having watched all of it now, my recommendation is only stronger.

Btw, for those who have seen it: there really is a Botswanan death metal band called Crackdust. You can find them on YouTube if you're really that curious.

And almost all of the comments on the video that I watched are from people who heard of them on Detectorists. They don't play any big role in the show, btw--I'm not giving away anything important.

I've requested The Detectorists from the library and will be watching it after Christmas.

Re the paper hats--When I read that comment, I thought Maclin had written it, and I was having a very difficult time wrapping my mind around the concept of his participating in such a thing. It was a very entertaining image, however.

I posted something similar to this last night, but it hasn't appeared. Maybe I didn't hit the right button.


Nothing in the spam filter.

If I were ever placed in that situation, I'm sure I would do my duty, but I hope it won't happen.

Watched another Christmas-themed movie last night, The Lemon Drop Kid with Bob Hope (1951). Although Hope has some funny wisecracks, and there are some good players in the secondary cast (Jane Darwell, Lloyd Nolan), the movie is pretty average -- mildly entertaining and nothing more.

I found out about the movie when reading something about the Christmas song "Silver Bells," which was debuted in the film. If you like the song and want to see its first appearance I'd suggest you watch it on Youtube; unless you're a Hope fan it's probably not worth watching the whole film just for that bit.

When judging this sort of light film from the 40s/50s I try to remember that in pre-television days, when people often went to movies twice a week or more, these movies were the equivalent of sitcoms. They offered an hour and a half of diversion and nothing more, really, and it's anachronistic in a way to be overly tough on them.

In this light it's interesting to note that there were two anti-TV jokes in the movie (TV was in its very early period at this time). In one of them a wide-eyed, messy-haired little man dazedly wanders into the posh bar where Hope's character is meeting some gangsters. The man is obviously plastered, but Hope looks at him sympathetically and says, "You must've been watching television!"

In the other, a cow brought to provide milk for the old ladies in Hope's sham old-folks' home somehow ends up inside the house. A character asks what the cow is doing in the house. Hope replies, "Milton Berle must be on tonight."

Good points about the merit of those comedies. And they apply equally to other genres. I've watched more than one crime/detective story that really was not interesting except as camp or nostalgia.

Several years ago I watched The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, also from the early '50s, and was similarly struck by some in-passing anti-television remarks. Of course the movie industry had a financial stake in the question.

We just finished the last episode of The Detectorists and my life is now a bleak, empty desert.


And it's my fault. Or Paul's. You're welcome.

Lance is going to be the baddy on the new episodes of Sherlock.


I saw his face in a clip. Didn't know what kind of role he would be playing. He was the baddy in Wayward Pines--power-mad scientist type who saves the world but kills a lot of people, too.

I can see him in that role.


He was Verloc in the BBC televisation of The Secret Agent las summer. Come to think of it, I never saw the last episode of that.


Oh, and yes, you're welcome.

I lent my brother the DVD of season one. My daughter has been after me to get it back ever since. She's only seen it half a dozen times.

Is that Conrad's Secret Agent? I wasn't aware of a BBC production by that name.

The very same. It was on while we were on holiday in England last July, but we were home before the final episode.

Not on Netflix, alas. Maybe in time.

Not that one, anyway. There's a 1996 movie with Bob Hoskins.

I've watched the first four episodes of Detectorists and really like it. Funniest thing I've seen in a long while, and I love the fact that there's no laugh track.

Glad you like it. I didn't think about that but a laugh track would really have damaged it.

I like the music too. Looked up the guy who did it, Johnny Flynn, and he has a couple albums available.

Yes, it is good. I was a little surprised to find that it's contemporary. It sounds an awful lot like something from the '60s--John Renbourn, Bert Jansch, somebody like that.

I really like the opening song. I was glad when somebody finally sang the whole thing.


The whole thing has a feeling of being older--70s maybe--but, of course, it's not. When I think about it, I think about it in black-and-white.


Toby Jones, who plays Lance, is a very effective villain in the most recent episode of Sherlock.

True, but I thought a great deal of the episode to be very tedious.

Did Toby Jones by any chance remind you of someone who is very much in the public eye?


"It sounds an awful lot like something from the '60s--John Renbourn, Bert Jansch, somebody like that."

Yeah, Nic Jones was who popped into my mind.

I don't know him. Or at least not by name.

Do you mean Trump, Janet? That did cross my mind.

I actually am so far liking this new season of Sherlock better than previous ones. I'm not sure why because the plots are if anything more preposterous than ever. Maybe I just quit fighting it.

Yes, I did, and it's funny because last night when I saw your response about the white supremacist, Yeah it's like he was working toward that, I thought you were responding to what I said here about Trump.

I really liked the first episode, and I didn't dislike the second, but I just thought there was too much of Sherlock being crazy.


The most pronounced similarity was to Sir Jimmy Savile.

I see what you mean, even without having any sense of what Savile's personality was like.

You liked the one about Eurus? I can't even watch the end of it.


That was written before the Eurus one was broadcast here. But actually, yes, I did more or less like the one about Eurus. It was crazy but a bit touching in the end.

The thing about the whole Sherlock series is that it's so fast and witty and gimmicky that for me it mostly kind stays on the surface. This season, which I guess is now over after three episodes, for some reason pulled me in more.

Nic Jones was well known in UK folk circles in the 60s and 70s, but in the early 80s was seriously injured in an auto accident which effectively ended his career. His best known album is Penguin Eggs, which is considered a UK folk classic. It's a brilliant record which showcases his arranging skills, his voice, and his unique guitar style.

I'm very surprised that I hadn't at least heard of him. I thought I was fairly familiar with that scene.

There was a revival of interest in him in the late 90s when British rocker John Wesley Harding did a tribute album called Trad Arr Jones. Harding's nowhere near the guitarist Jones was, but it's a very good album nonetheless. At that point I'd been listening to Jones for several years already and thus the Harding album came as a nice surprise.

Story related to that. A musician friend of mine is a huge fan of British folk music. He's played with Fairport Convention, knows those guys well, etc., etc. He's also a big Nic Jones fan. When Harding came to Pittsburgh not long after the Jones tribute disc came out we all went down to hear him. He was doing mostly his own material that night but threw in a couple of the Jones tunes. During the show people were calling out requests and Harding was being quite obliging. We were sitting close to the front and my friend kept calling out one particular song from the Jones album that he wanted to hear. Harding didn't respond, and then finally after probably a half-dozen songs or so, he looked at my friend and laughed and said, "Sorry, no, can't do that one, so you might as well save your breath." It was a very amusing moment.

Definitely my cup of tea. Rather John-Martyn-ish guitar. Can't believe I've never heard him before.

Yeah, it's great stuff.

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